Sermon by The Rev. Christopher Hogin
Sunday, December 2, 2018
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The Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
The Reverend Christopher Hogin
Advent of The End
The Episcopal Church of The Ascension
December 2, 2018
This month marks the 21st anniversary of one of the most successful films in cinematic history. Out of 14 Academy Award nominations, this film won 11, including best picture. Commercially, it was the first film to reach the billion dollar mark worldwide. It resonated not only with a western audience, but also captured the imagination of the entire world crossing cultural and socio-economic boundaries. Even in the remote country of Afghanistan, citizens smuggled in copies of the movie despite bans imposed by the brutal regime of the Taliban. This movie was, of course, James Cameron’s masterpiece, Titanic.
Titanic struck a nerve within the human psyche. It spoke to our deepest desires and fears. There’s romance, intrigue, betrayal, tragedy, redemption–it’s all there—and that’s even before the cataclysmic sinking of the ship! For a while, the audience forgets about the impending doom, and instead, becomes enveloped in the romance of the characters Jack and Rose. But the viewer also connects with the world of the ship: its elegant promenade deck with sculpted brass handrails, the first class dining room, the cutlery clinking against delicate china, the orchestra fluttering in the background as passengers sip champagne. This contrasts with the bawdy third-class hall where fiddlers strum and beer sloshes out of bar taps in to glasses.
Different socio-economic levels are represented on the ship: the super-wealthy, the middle class, and the impoverished. It’s all there; A microcosm of life and society. All are encased in a floating planet known as the RMS Titanic. But soon, that world comes to a crashing and devastating end in an unexpected and disastrous way.
What makes the movie so compelling, aside from the fictional romance of characters Jack and Rose, is the events in the film actually happened. When the ship slams into that iceberg on the Atlantic, tragedy unfolds. Confusion, shock, panic, and utter chaos ensues as the mighty ship rips apart: A smokestack collapses, the lights go out, and the sounds of rushing sea water, twisting steel and snapping cables mix with screams from those on the ship.
People remain fascinated with the Titanic. Why? For those souls on that cold April night in 1912, the world ended. It happened quickly. The crashing of the ice berg sank the ship in approximately 2 and a half hours. In that time all illusions were smashed. This floating planet, the Titanic, represented stability and safety. Deemed unsinkable, lifeboats were a mere afterthought. How could this have happened? It was inconceivable!
Humans connect with the Titanic disaster because it’s a shocking reminder of the volatility of life. Regardless of technological and engineering advances, we are vulnerable to forces of nature. Our way of life can change instantly. Tragedy can strike out of nowhere in unexpected ways, and it does not discriminate against race or class. 1,503 people died that night, and although survival favored the rich, not even billionaire John Jacob Astor was spared.
There were many heroes that night. However, the Titanic band deserves significant accolades. As the ship sank they continued playing. They played Nearer My God To Thee. In doing so, by not abandoning the ship or panicking, these men faced their mortality. They faced the tragedy. They gave themselves completely to God and to one another. They were sober alert, and strong. Their music became almost a prayer as their world came apart at the seams.
In reflecting on the Titanic, I can’t help but connect it with passages of Luke’s Gospel: On that night the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth caused distress among people on that boat. They were confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves, and fainted with fear and foreboding. When these things took place, some stood up, and raised their heads knowing that redemption was drawing near. They played Nearer to Thee My God. They stood up straight, prayed, and received as they waited to stand before The Son of Man.
Jesus is clear in Luke’s Gospel. His message is eschatological, which means end times. None of us knows when the end will happen, either individually, or collectively as a society. Make no mistake, the end will come at some moment in time. It’s a scientific fact this world will end. We too will end one day. When that time arrives, may we be ready for the second coming of Jesus, both individually and collectively.
The good news is that it our faith in Christ opens up pathways that redeems and heals. Jesus tells us to not be afraid, but instead, be awake; be alert; be sober; pray. That’s exactly what many of those passengers did, most notably the band members, they stood straight and tall staring down the inevitably tragedy. In the midst of darkness, they allowed the light of God’s grace to shine. I can’t think of a more perfect Advent hymn than Nearer My God To Thee.
We are in the season of Advent. Advent is a penitential time. It’s a time where we not only look forward to Jesus’ birth, but also await his second coming. Advent means an expectation, or a coming. It is a time for us to prepare, to wait, and to strengthen ourselves.
When we light Advent candles, may we look at the illuminated light piercing the darkness and see the light of God’s grace. May we allow that light to pierce our own darkness of fear and anxiety. Whatever we are going through, be it mental, physical, or spiritual pain, may we stand up straight, face pray, and trust that in the end, God heals and redeems us all as we journey Nearer My God To Thee.